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Stop Scrolling And Use Your Phone To Reach Out To Others

The strength of our community is only as strong as the commitment we make to maintaining it.


Social media have been in the news of late, with several cases at the Supreme Court examining questions of censorship and the role of government in policing or regulating companies and content. But above and beyond the policy-related questions social media present, the cultural questions seem even more profound.

In our hyperactive, atomized world, two characteristics that make humans human seem in rather short supply: empathy and connection. While technology makes contact with millions, if not billions, of others easier than ever, those contacts also seem more superficial than ever, leaving many grasping for meaning and searching for the deeper relationships that often appear far too elusive.

Outreach in Tough Times

To borrow the words of the late Queen Elizabeth II, the year 2023 was “not a year on which I shall look back with undiluted pleasure. … It has turned out to be an annus horribilis.” Three separate surgeries (with a fourth on the way), a flood that — while thankfully covered by insurance — made my home barely habitable for several months, the rapid collapse of what I thought would become my ideal job environment, and a data breach leading to identity theft combined to create obstacles that might have tested the patience of Job.

But some in my social circle know not of some, or all, of these events, and might express surprise when learning of them. On the other hand, one could easily respond that not knowing comes from not taking the time to ask.

I wrote at The Federalist over five years ago, just before Christmas 2018, about the need to reach out to others, particularly during the holiday season. I noted at the time that “I generally reach out to my colleagues to check if they’re okay, or set up a time to meet, rather than the other way around.”

Those words held true then and for most of the time since. But at a certain point, the realization that one person does practically all the intentional outreach in a relationship — feeling like one has to nag or pester others for them to take an interest — can become disheartening, even demoralizing.

Use Phones for Good, Not Evil

Granted, as I noted back in 2018, “many of my friends have commitments to spouses and children,” which can make keeping in touch more difficult. But ultimately, the type of relationships and connections we make, and keep, has much to do with our priorities.

As someone blessed with a keen (and lucrative) memory, I recognize that those with more, and more pressing, commitments can fail to reach out for the most innocent and well-meaning of reasons.

But the ubiquitous phones we keep at our side practically every hour of the day provide a solution, if we let them. It doesn’t take but a few seconds to text a close acquaintance to see how he or she is doing. And in case one becomes preoccupied with work or other commitments, a daily or weekly reminder can provide the needed prod to action.

As a society, we can and will debate whether and how government can regulate social media, and whether and how social media can moderate content on various platforms. But wouldn’t we be all better off if, instead of using our phones to engage in Twitter wars or post narcissistic selfies on Instagram, we spent a few minutes every day or every week texting to connect with the people we value most in life? Better yet, why not utilize one’s phone for its original purpose, and engage in a conversation, even a brief one, to hear the reassuring sound of a friend’s voice?

The Importance of Reaching Out

Politically, I don’t agree with Surgeon General Vivek Murthy on much. His office’s advisory on loneliness and mental health last year often ventured into realms of big government (“examine policies across sectors, including health, education, labor, housing, transportation, and the environment,” “invest in social infrastructure”) and woke identity politics (“diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility are critical components of … an overarching social connection strategy”).

But I do agree with Murthy’s call for Americans to take a few minutes, preferably every day, but at least once a week, to reach out to others, including people they may not have connected with for weeks, months, or even years. It won’t take much time, and shouldn’t hurt at all.

Restarting a conversation with someone you haven’t spoken to in a while may prove slightly awkward, but from experience, that generally only lasts a few moments. More importantly, it will strengthen the social and emotional bonds that define us as humans. As a dear friend of mine observed, the strength of our community is only as strong as the commitment we make to maintaining it.

Taking time to reconnect with others may not dramatically improve your life. But it could dramatically improve someone else’s life — and that’s really the point.

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